The Top 10 Best Movies About War Crimes

War crimes are one of the grisly unintended consequences of war - here are the top 10 films about torture, murder, and rape during war.

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My Lai (2010)

My Lai

This documentary has a huge "get" - they managed to interview many of the soldiers of the platoon that participated in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam (granted, the men they got for interviews were those that didn't participate but were there.) It's harrowing to watch these soldiers recount the experience from their own perspective, and sad to realize that, for these men, their entire service and sacrifice was forever stained by this one act, perpetrated by their fellow soldiers. How can human beings just kill so many innocent civilians? Sadly, this documentary makes the case that it can occur easier than you'd think.

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Road to Guantanamo (2006)

Road to Guantanamo
Road to Guantanamo.

This 2006 documentary tells the story of British Muslims that were errantly scooped up by American soldiers in the immediate chaos following the retreat of the Taliban across Afghanistan and imprisoned in Guantanamo for years at a time, despite no evidence connecting them to terrorism. Torture ensues. A powerful documentary which is sure to incite anger in the viewer and reveals that sometimes, Americans are the ones that keep Prisoners of War.

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Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Taxi to the Dark Side

Early in the war in Afghanistan, a taxi driver was hired to drive some other Afghans across the country when the taxi was stopped by U.S. forces interested in the passengers. The taxi driver was scooped up with the passengers and interrogated by U.S. forces. This taxi driver was later found dead, killed through torture, and the crime was covered up.

This documentary uses this particular case as a starting point to examine the U.S. use of torture in the War on Terror during the Bush administration and ends up at Abu Garib prison in Iraq. A fascinating portrait of a country that lost its way, and of a crime that never should have been committed.

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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

Standard Operating Procedure
Sony Pictures Classics

Standard Operating Procedure is the twin to Taxi to the Dark Side. This film tells the story of torture and prisoner abuse in Iraq, the other film telling about torture and prisoner abuse in Afghanistan. But the films and the subject matter are linked. As the film itself makes the case that the harsh interrogation tactics that emerged in Iraq were introduced through soldiers that had arrived from Afghanistan. Focusing on the scandals that emerged at Abu Garib prison, it's a harsh indictment of power and corruption. (It's telling, and the film takes pains to note that at the end of the day, only lower enlisted were punished for what occurred in the film - despite the orders coming down from much higher in the chain of command.)

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Casualties of War (1989)

Casualties of War

This film is listed in an article that forced a binary (best/worst) rating on Vietnam films as one of the worst. It's not terrible, as the term "worst" would imply, but it's also not a great film - it lacks a certain adult nuance that would make it a great film. But if you divorce yourself from the entertainment value of the film as a piece of art, it is a great rendering of a real-life incident in Vietnam where U.S. soldiers - led by a psychopath - kidnapped, raped, and murdered a Vietnamese girl. It's difficult to watch the abuse of the girl, but important to realize this was a real event that happened, and for its brutal rendering of this real-life event, it deserves inclusion on this list.

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The Kill Team (2013)

The Kill Team

One of the top documentaries about Afghanistan and Iraq, it details the real-life incident of a platoon of U.S. soldiers that randomly murdered Afghan civilians for sport. More impressive, it gets interviews with many of the members of this platoon, the very individuals charged with the crimes. The film also gleefully gets muddy in the moral muddle of whether or not one particular soldier should be considered guilty; he was there, but he didn't participate. The law says he should have intervened and stopped his fellow soldiers - but as all former soldiers know, doing so is a bit different when you're isolated and the sergeant in charge of you is a psychopath.

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Winter Soldier (1972)

Winter Soldier
Millarium Zero

This film also makes the list of war films used as propaganda. There's no narrative format to this documentary, it's just a filming of a stage in Detroit where veterans of the Vietnam war get up on stage and admit to participating in horrific war crimes. It should be said that these are all unproven allegations - and as a former soldier, I'm well aware that veterans are more than capable of making stuff up, where they were, what sort of trouble they got into, and what they saw. I'm not sure what to make of this film, it's certainly incendiary, and if true, horrible. As with most things in life, some of the stories are likely true, some are false, and some are simply exaggerated.

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The Reader (2008)

The Reader

This memorable war film is unique in that it's also a love story - a rarity for war films. The woman at the center of the love story also happens to have been a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Intertwining a young romance with a courtroom drama, the film shifts between rage towards the central character - for her callous indifference to the Jews whose deaths she helped to perpetuate - and affection, for her romantic heart and the love affair she participates with. It's one of those rare films that refuses to paint in black and white, but instead delves into the complexity of the human psyche, showing that all people, even those we perceive to be bad, are full of a huge depth and range of emotions, some of which, we'll never understand.

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Sophie's Choice (1982)

Sophie's Choice

You wouldn't think this much of a war film, as there's not a single scene of the film set within a war - but war nonetheless permeates every second of this film about a Polish immigrant in New York City, living with a horrible secret, about the terrible decision she had to make during the second World War, when she had to choose between her two children, and which would die and which would live.  It's a decision that has come to haunt every second of the rest of this tortured woman's life.  Meryl Streep gives another fantastic performance as a woman plagued by guilt, and desperately trying to avoid looking at her own past.

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Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Judgement at Nuremberg

Photo from Amazon

There have been a lot of films made about the Nuremberg trials, where Nazis were convicted of war crimes following the Second World War. The best of them is this 1961 film that explored the depth of the horror committed by Nazis and explored the idea of what it means to refuse an illegal order.